Laura Bush has held a love for books and reading since childhood, and her life and education have reflected that interest. She graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 with a Bachelor's degree in education, and soon took a job as a second grade school teacher. After attaining her Master's degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin, she was employed as a librarian. She met George Walker Bush in 1977 and they were married later that year; the couple had twin daughters.
Bush's political involvement began with her marriage. She campaigned in his unsuccessful 1978 run for the United States Congress and later his successful Texas gubernatorial campaign. As First Lady of Texas, Bush implemented many initiatives focused on health, education, and literacy. In 1999, she aided her husband in campaigning for the presidency of the United States in a number of ways, most notably delivering a keynote address at the 2000 Republican National Convention; this gained her national attention. She became first lady after her husband defeated Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election.
Polled as one of the most popular first ladies, Laura Bush is involved in topics of both national and global concern. She has continued to advance her trademark interests of education and literacy by establishing the annual National Book Festival in 2001 and encouraging education on a worldwide scale. She has also advanced the causes of women through The Heart Truth and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She serves as a representative of the United States during her trips abroad, which tend to focus on HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness.
She attended James Bowie Elementary School, San Jacinto Junior High School, and Midland Lee High School in Midland. She graduated from Lee in 1964 and went on to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.
In 1963 she was involved in a fatal car accident. Accounts indicate that Laura ran a stop sign and hit another car, killing its driver (classmate Michael Dutton Douglas). According to the accident report released by the city of Midland, neither driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and no charges were filed. According to Bush's spokesperson, "It was a very tragic accident that deeply affected the families and was very painful for all involved, including the community at large. To this day, Mrs. Bush remains unable to talk about it."
After graduating from SMU, she began her career as a school teacher of the second grade at Longfellow Elementary School in the Dallas Independent School District. She then taught for three years at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, a Houston Independent School District school in Houston, until 1972.
In 1973, Welch attained a Master of Science degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin. She was soon employed as a librarian at the Kashmere Gardens Branch at the Houston Public Library. The following year, she moved back to Austin and took another job as a librarian in the Austin Independent School District school Dawson Elementary until 1977. She reflected upon her employment experiences to a group of children in 2003, saying, "I worked as a teacher and librarian and I learned how important reading is in school and in life."
The Bushes had tried to conceive for three years, but pregnancy did not happen easily. In 1981, Laura Bush gave birth to twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. The twins were born five weeks early by an emergency Cesarian section, as Laura had developed the life-threatening disease toxemia. The twins graduated from high school in 2000 and from Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin, respectively, in 2004. To date, Laura Bush is the only First Lady to give birth to twins.
George W. Bush credited his wife with his decision to stop drinking in 1986. She is also credited with having a stabilizing effect on his private life. According to People magazine reporter Jane Simms Podesta, "She is the steel in his back. She is a civilizing influence on him. I think she built him, in many ways, into the person he is today."
Several times a year, Laura Bush and her husband travel to their sprawling family estate, the Bush Compound, better known as Walker's Point. Located in Kennebunkport, Maine, the compound is where Bush family gatherings have been held for nearly 100 years.
Bush became the First Lady of Texas when her husband was elected as the Governor of Texas and served as first lady of that state from January 17, 1995, to December 21, 2000. Asked about her interest in politics, she responded, "It doesn't drive me."
Though during her years in the Governor's Mansion, she did not hold a single formal event, Laura worked for women's and children's causes including health, education, and literacy. She implemented four major initiatives: Take Time For Kids, an awareness campaign to educate parents and caregivers on parenting; family literacy, through cooperation with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, she urged Texas communities to establish family literacy programs; Reach Out and Read, a pediatric reading program; and Ready to Read, an early childhood educational program.
She raised money for public libraries through her establishment of the Texas Book Festival, and established the First Lady's Family Literacy Initiative, which encouraged families to read together. Bush further established "Rainbow Rooms" across the state, in an effort to provide emergency services for neglected or abused children. Through this, she promoted the Adopt-a-Caseworker Program to provide support for Child Protective Services. Finally, Bush used her position to advocate Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer awareness.
Her husband announced his campaign for President of the United States in mid-1999, something that she agreed to. She did say, however, that she had never dreamed that he would run for office. She had previously told him that she would not give a speech, but reneged on that promise that July as she delivered a keynote address to the delegates at the 2000 Republican National Convention. This speech put her on the national stage. In December 2000 her husband resigned as Texas Governor to prepare for his inauguration as President of the United States in January 2001.
Early into the administration, Bush made it known that she would focus much of her attention on education. This included recruiting highly qualified teachers to ensure that young children would be taught well. She also focused on early child development. In 2001, to promote reading and education, she partnered with the Library of Congress to launch the annual National Book Festival. To promote American patriotic heritage in schools, she helped launch the National Anthem Project.
Immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks; Bush spoke regarding America's children:
[W]e need to reassure our children that they are safe in their homes and schools. We need to reassure them that many people love them and care for them, and that while there are some bad people in the world, there are many more good people.
The following day, she composed open letters to America's families, focusing on elementary and middle school students, which she distributed through state education officials. She took an interest in mitigating the emotional effects of the attacks on children, particularly the disturbing images repeatedly replayed on television. On the one-year anniversary, she encouraged parents to instead read to their children, and perhaps light a candle in memoriam, saying, "Don't let your children see the images, especially on September 11, when you know it'll probably be on television again and again — the plane hitting the building or the buildings falling."
Later in her tenure, she was honored by the United Nations, as the body named her honorary ambassador for the United Nation's Decade of Literacy. In this position, she announced that she would host a Conference on Global Literacy. The conference, held in September 2006, encouraged a constant effort to promote literacy and highlighted many successful literacy programs. She coordinated this as a result of her many trips abroad where she witnessed how literacy benefitted children in poorer nations.
She first became involved with The Heart Truth awareness campaign in 2003. It is an organization established by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to raise awareness about heart disease in women, and how to prevent the condition. She serves in the honorary position of ambassador for the program leading the federal government's effort to give women a "wake up call" about the risk of heart disease. She commented on the disease: "Like many women, I assumed heart disease was a man's disease and cancer was what we would fear the most. Yet heart disease kills more women in our country than all forms of cancer combined. When it comes to heart disease, education, prevention, and even a little red dress can save lives." She has undertaken a signature personal element of traveling around the country and talking to women at hospital and community events featuring the experiences of women who live, or had lived, with the condition. This outreach was credited with saving the life of one woman who went to the hospital after experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
With her predecessor, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Bush dedicated the First Ladies Red Dress Collection at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in May 2005. It is an exhibit containing red suits worn by former First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush meant to raise awarenss by highlighting America's first ladies. She has participated in fashion shows displaying red dresses worn on celebrities as well.
Bush's mother, Jenna Welch, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 78. She endured surgery and currently has no further signs of cancer. Laura Bush has become a breast cancer activist on her mother's behalf through her involvement in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She applauded the foundation's efforts in eliminating cancer and said, "A few short years ago, a diagnosis of breast cancer left little hope of recovery. But thanks to the work of the Komen Foundation... more women and men are beating breast cancer and beating the odds." She used her position to gain international support for the foundation through the Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research of the Americas, an initiative that unites experts from the United States, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico.
In November 2001, she became the first person other than a president to deliver the weekly presidential radio address. She used the opportunity to discuss the plight of women in Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, saying, "The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists. In May 2002, she made a speech to the people of Afghanistan through Radio Liberty, a radio station in Prague, Czech Republic.
Laura Bush's approval ratings have consistently ranked very high. In January 2006, a USA Today/CBS/Gallup poll recorded her approval rating at 82 percent and disapproval at 13 percent. That places Bush as one of the most popular first ladies. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, "She is more popular, and more welcome, in many parts of the country than the president... In races where the moderates are in the most trouble, Laura Bush is the one who can do the most good." Her ratings have consistently ranked highly.
She disagreed with Fox News' Chris Wallace in 2006 when Wallace asked why the American people are beginning to lose confidence in President Bush, saying, "Well, I don't think they are. And I don't really believe those polls. I travel around the country, I see people, I see their response to my husband, I see their response to me. There are a lot of difficult challenges right now in the United States... All of those decisions that the President has to make surrounding each one of these very difficult challenges are hard. They're hard decisions to make. And of course some people are unhappy about what some of those decisions are. But I think people know that he is doing what he thinks is right for the United States, that he's doing what he — especially in the war on terror, what he thinks he is obligated to do for the people in the United States, and that is to protect them... When his polls were really high they weren't on the front page.
During the January 2005 second inauguration ceremonies for her husband, Laura Bush was looked highly upon by People magazine, The Washington Post, and others for her elegance and fashion sense. At the inauguration she wore a winter white cashmere dress and matching coat designed by Oscar de la Renta. Following the inauguration were the inaugural galas, to which Bush wore a pale, aqua lace gown, sprinkled with crystals, with long sleeves in a silver blue mist. The tulle gown was also designed for her by de la Renta. According to The Washington Post, "[I]t made her look radiant and glamorous."
During President Bush's second term, Laura has been more involved in foreign matters. She has traveled to numerous countries as a representative of the United States.
As First Lady, she has taken five goodwill trips to Africa. The purpose of these has mostly been to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and malaria, but Bush has also stressed the need for education and greater opportunities for women. She has taken many other trips to other countries to promote and gain support for President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief; these countries include Zambia (2007), Mozambique (2007), Mali (2007), Senegal (2007), and Haiti (2008).
In mid-2007, she took a trip to Burma where she spoke out in support of the pro-democracy movement, and urged Burmese soldiers and militias to refrain from violence. Later that October, she ventured to the Middle East. Bush said she was in the region in an attempt to improve America's image by highlighting concern for women's health, specifically promoting breast cancer awareness. She defined the trip as successful, saying that stereotypes were broken on both sides.
When asked about abortion in 2000, Bush said she doesn't believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. She did not comment on whether women had the right to an abortion. She did say, however, that the country should do "what we can to limit the number of abortions, to try to reduce the number of abortions in a lot of ways, and that is, by talking about responsibility with girls and boys, by teaching abstinence, having abstinence classes everywhere in schools and in churches and in Sunday school."
Bush responded to a question during a 2006 interview concerning the Federal Marriage Amendment by calling for elected leaders not to politicize same-sex marriage: "I don't think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously. It requires a lot of sensitivity to just talk about the issue... a lot of sensitivity.
On July 12, 2005, while in South Africa, Bush suggested her husband replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor with another woman. On October 2, during a private dinner at the White House with Laura, President Bush asked Harriet Miers to replace O'Connor. Later that month, after Miers had faced intense criticism, Laura Bush questioned whether the charges were sexist in nature.
She received an award in honor of her dedication to help improve the living conditions and education of children around the world, from the Kuwait-American Foundation in March 2006. She accepted The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal on behalf of disaster relief workers around the world in May 2006 from Vanderbilt University.
Three learning facilities have been named for her: the Laura Welch Bush Elementary School in Houston, Texas, the Laura W. Bush Elementary School in the Leander ISD just outside Austin, Texas, and the Laura Bush Education Center at Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. military base in Kosovo.